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Trulia.com recently announced that 20% of current home listings have been reduced in price at least once, compared to 27% in April 2009, representing a 26% decline nationally. Trulia was one of the first companies to issue national price reduction reports and is available to provide historical data on trends taking place as early as April 2009.

“With such a dramatic drop in home price reductions over the past year, we’re beginning to see early signs of stabilization in the housing market on a national level, as well as locally in certain markets,” said Pete Flint, Trulia co-founder and CEO. “As the federal stimulus comes to an end this month, coupled with expected increases in interest rates and foreclosures, the next few months will be very telling for whether the U.S. housing market can be self-sustaining over the longer-term. Trulia will continue to track price reductions going forward as an indicator of health in real estate market.”

In April 2009, Trulia first started tracking price reductions, both nationally and for the 15 major U.S. cities. Of the original 15 cities, those hit earliest and hardest have experienced huge decreases in price reductions compared to the previous year, including Las Vegas (54%), San Diego (52%) and San Francisco (45%). Seattle was the only original city to see a significant increase in price reduction levels with a 15% spike compared to the previous year.

In addition to seeing fewer homes reduced in price, the current report shows several cities have seen significant decreases in the percentage amount slashed off of the original listing price compared to the previous year. New York and San Francisco both saw discounts on home prices drop by more than 30% compared to April 2009.

On the other hand, several cities actually experienced increases in the average price reduction. Houston, Denver, Seattle and Phoenix all saw double-digit percentage increases compared to April 2009.

 

For more information, visit www.trulia.com.

How to Make the Most of Garage Sales

by Alexandra Zega

It’s Spring. Time to dust off those unused items in the attic and basement and prepare for the annual ritual of Yard Sales.

Many garage-sellers are entering the market for the first time or re-entering it as a way to raise cash, and experienced shoppers know this because the quality of the goods has gone down. People hold on to possessions longer in a recession, but now they are trying to sell what they might have thrown away or donated to charity in the past.

For buyers and sellers who are new to the garage sale scene, here are some tips:

What to know if you are selling

-Price low. That should be the goal if you want to get rid of stuff. For pricing guidelines, visit thrift stores, not eBay.
-Heed the signs. Keep signs on every other block and every corner where a turn is required in the city (a half-mile apart along longer stretches in the suburbs). Make sure the address and sale dates are large and easily readable. Add balloons to attract the eye.
-Sell with others. Doing it alone is too much work.
-Sell to early birds but charge extra perhaps a $5 or $10 “tax” for a purchase. Keep it short. Make the sale one or two, but not three, days.
-Promote yourself. Advertise as much as you can in the newspaper and on Craigslist, Facebook and bulletin boards.
-Cut prices. Advertise that on the last day or last afternoon, everything is half-price.
-Offer details. Be specific about sale items in an ad, such as a leaf blower, musical instruments or furniture.
-Be friendly. Greet everyone who comes to the sale.
-Group small items and sell everything for $1 or more to eliminate coins.
-Plan ahead. Take the spring and summer to collect, price and box items to sell in the fall.
-Choose the best hours- 8 am to noon or 9 am to 3 pm.
-Donate leftovers. Call ahead to have charities picks up unsold items.

What to know if you’re buying

-Don’t bring your purse. Leave it in the trunk. Keep quarters, ones and fives in a pants pocket or jacket.
-Cruise around. Check good neighborhoods for better quality goods, but haggle if prices are too high.
-Shop early for the best selection.

-Browse in the late afternoon or on the last day for the best bargains. Any offer is fair near closing time.
-Play it safe. Skip cribs, mattresses, car seats and hockey helmets due to possible safety concerns.
-Set limits. If you’re concerned about overbuying, commit to limits on spending or the number of items.
-Leave your card. Ask to be called if an item remains unsold and the seller is willing to accept your price.

 

 (c) 2010, J. Ewoldt, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Earth Day Turns 40 – Do Your Part to Protect the Planet

by Alexandra Zega

 Today is the 40th celebration of Earth Day. What started as an educational ‘teach-in’ in 1970 has turned into a global event dedicated to showing each of us how to do our part to protect the planet. Why should we want to protect the planet? Let’s start with the fact that Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 25% of the natural resources and generate 30% of the waste. Each one of us leaves a measurable footprint on the planet and it is determined by the demands we put on nature as it compares to the planet’s natural ability to meet those needs. It’s called your eco-footprint and it’s a concept that is widely being used around the globe to measure sustainability.

Your eco-footprint takes into account where you live, how many people live with you, the size of your home, the forms of energy used in your home, and energy saving measures in your home. The number of miles you travel, how you travel those miles, how you eat, what you eat and where you shop for food are all included in the calculation of your eco-footprint. Your eco-footprint also includes water saving devices in your home, the products used to build your home and the chemicals you use to clean it. And of course it includes the amount of trash you generate and how much you recycle. There are many other items that should be included in a measure of our ecological impact on Earth, but the eco-footprint calculator is a good start. You can measure your eco-footprint at www.footprintnetwork.org.

The typical American eco-footprint is enormous. Only citizens of the United Arab Emirates have a larger eco-footprint. Worse still, the needs of our global population exceed the ecological limits of our planet and it gets worse every year. We are taking from the planet faster than it can naturally renew or regenerate and are now tapping into the reserves at an alarming rate.

There is, however, good news. There is a great deal that each one of us can do to lighten our load on Earth and it doesn’t have to be painful or costly. It’s getting back to the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. When you use less energy, waste less water, create less trash and opt for non-toxic solutions—you’ll lower your eco-footprint. It really comes down to adopting everyday green living solutions. It may take a little effort to get started, but the rewards are immediate and impactful—providing savings in your bank account and a healthier future for our children. This year, attend an Earth Day event and learn how you too can do your part.

 

(c) 2010 Terri Bennett Enterprises, LLC. all rights reserved.

Expiring Tax Credit Has Buyers Rushing to Sign Dotted Line

by Alexandra Zega

 

Latasha Hall never envisioned herself a homeowner. But by the end of the month, she will be. Just in time.

With the soon-to-expire tax credit for first-time buyers as an assist, the single mother plans to close on a $166,650 three-bedroom house in Clifton Heights, Pa. “If it hadn’t been for the credit, I wouldn’t have done it,” Hall said.

To be eligible for the federal tax credits—up to $8,000 for qualified first-timers and up to $6,500 for certain repeat buyers—houses must be under contract by April 30, with settlement by June 30, 2010.

With those deadlines in sight, some real estate agents say they are relishing their first busy days in months.

For some buyers, a tax credit is an added perk in an already-friendly market with good inventory and low mortgage rates.

For those like Hall, who is working toward her bachelor’s degree in behavior and addictions counseling and who works two jobs, it’s the last piece that fits the puzzle. In January, Hall asked a Realtor for help finding a rental home after her landlord’s lender foreclosed.

A loan officer with the Realty Company, looked at her income (about $54,000) and her credit score (which needed some work, but not much) and suggested she buy instead. The lender used a state loan program that would provide $5,000 of the $8,000 credit up front, for use on closing costs or maintenance on the house. Hall set to work paying off two past-due bills and bugging the credit bureaus—sending weekly faxes and calling often—to update her score quickly. “If I hadn’t heard about this credit, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to get it done,” she said. “This is my time to go out and do what I have to do. I kept thinking about my kids.”

The new Clifton Heights neighborhood is safer, she said, and it’s just two blocks from the school her 9-year-old son attends. The credit has been “a blessing,” Hall said.

To Realtors like Daren Sautter, it’s a relief. “It’s nice to be busy,” he said.

Sellers likely will be thinking the same thing, Realtors say, and listing prices could drop this month.

Daren recently helped Pat Poole price her four-bedroom Cherry Hill house to sell. At $290,000, it went after just one day on the market. Recently divorced, Poole was looking to downsize. She sold the house to a young couple who used the repeat-buyer credit. Her next task: finding a new house for herself and her 17-year-old son in time to secure her own tax credit. “I’m going to get in under the wire,” Poole said.

A flurry of activity is noticeable in areas with a strong inventory of homes affordable to young families, Realtors said.

But some brokers are seeing a “trickle-up” effect. Would-be buyers are able to sell their homes, aided by the rush for the tax credit, and upgrade to communities with better school systems or more historic charm.

In Haddonfield, N.J., the proximity to Philadelphia and access to the PATCO High-Speed Line were big draws for Jeff Minors and Amy Henry. Minors will commute to his job as a financial-news editor in New York City. The couple, longtime renters, were looking to move to southern New Jersey from Norwalk, Conn., with their 2-year-old son. They recently moved into a four-bedroom home in Haddonfield that cost about $575,000. The first-time-buyer credit was an added bonus, Minors said. “We were more concerned about finding the right house at the right price,” he said. “But it’s definitely a nice benefit.”

 

(c) 2010, Chelsea Conaboy, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Many Filers Confused by Stimulus Tax Credit

by Alexandra Zega

As the deadline approaches for filing tax returns, the process of claiming a tax break created by the stimulus package has proved to be more work than millions of people had bargained for.

The new tax credit, championed by President Obama as a follow-through on his campaign promise to provide broad-based tax relief, affects 95 percent of all Americans by cutting $400 from the total tax bill for individual filers and $800 for married couples.

In an effort to jump-start the sputtering economy by putting the money into people's pockets as quickly as possible, the government also decided to pay the credit upfront and instructed employers to reduce the amount of federal withholding deducted from workers' paychecks over the last year.

But what millions of taxpayers did not realize was that to have the credit deducted from the total amount of taxes owed, they are required to complete a new form, Schedule M. For millions of retirees, the procedure also requires an additional step because they have to deduct the tax break, known as the "Making Work Pay" credit, from other tax credits they may have received.

While either of those procedures takes only a few minutes, I.R.S. officials said that the unfamiliarity with the process of claiming the credit had led to errors in more than four million of the 82 million returns processed as of this week. The government expects to receive 60 million more returns by the filing deadline on Thursday, so it is possible that millions of additional returns will also contain similar errors.

The I.R.S. said its examiners would correct those errors, file the Schedule M for the taxpayers who neglected to do so and recalculate the filers' taxes to reflect the credit. But the sheer volume of errors involving the tax credit has added to the workload of the agency and could result in delays of several weeks or more for taxpayers whose returns were incomplete.

"We're making sure people get the credits they are entitled to," said Michelle Eldridge, a spokeswoman for the I.R.S. "But it's causing delays."

While mistakes involving the tax credit are by far the most common error tax examiners are encountering this year, I.R.S. officials say that the error rate -- less than 6 percent -- is not surprising for any new provision in the tax code. The Obama administration also contends that, despite the extra paperwork for taxpayers and the delayed returns, the tax credit succeeded in nudging the economy toward recovery by injecting $65 billion into circulation quickly.

But putting the credit into effect has nonetheless been challenging. In November, the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration reported that the I.R.S. instructions regarding the credit might have led some employers to reduce withholdings too much. As a result, the audit warned, 15 million or more taxpayers might find that their refunds would be smaller than expected, or they might even owe taxes.

I.R.S. officials say that because of a variety of other tax credits and changes to the code, those problems have not materialized and refunds are actually larger this year than last. But the complications involving taxpayers filing for the Making Work Pay credit have been widespread. Some filers neglected to claim the credit on line 63 of their 1040 forms or to file the Schedule M. Social Security recipients and federal retirees who received $250 stimulus checks were also required to deduct that amount from their Making Work Pay tax credits, adding to the confusion.

"Even those of us who do it for a living are puzzled by this thing, so people doing their own returns have no idea what to do," said Ron Lee, an accountant in Davenport, Iowa. "It's good intentions to get the money out there and reduce taxes. But it creates an accounting headache."

Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, said the Obama administration had made extensive efforts to alert taxpayers to the new credits. In March, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and the commissioner of the I.R.S., Douglas H. Shulman, appeared at a White House event to publicize the new tax credits. The Obama administration also placed a tax-saving tool on the White House Web site to help taxpayers understand which credits they could claim. "Helping the American people understand tax relief they are eligible for is an administration priority," Ms. Brundage said in a written statement, "and we will continue to work to help the American people navigate this process during these difficult economic times."

With millions of last-minute filers yet to prepare their returns, I.R.S. officials advised taxpayers to consult with http://www.irs.gov/, or the telephone help line, at (800) 829-1040, if they need assistance.

"And the No. 1 way to reduce errors and get your refund as quickly as possible is to file electronically," said Ms. Eldridge of the I.R.S.

 

© David Kocieniewski provided by The New York Times

Displaying blog entries 1-5 of 5

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